“In a start-up context, you have to find the right balance between an optimal solution and a solution that is simple to implement, flexible and economically interesting.”


The interview: A.De Bosset, Co-founder & COO of HiKaMi Digital

Hello Aurèle, before getting to the heart of the matter, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

As an EPFL engineer, I started my career at Nestlé at the PTC of Orbe in development then I was expatriated for 3 years in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam as an engineer, then as a project manager.

After these 6 years at Nestlé, I decided to leave the group and to start my own business. I created a first company which I sold 2 years ago, then I co-founded HiKaMi Digital AG for which I am COO. At HiKaMi we develop IoT (internet of things) products to bring brands, points of sale and customers closer together. We make this connection by digitizing the “moment of consumption” of a physical product, which we can relate to the digital behavior of a customer.

On the other hand, I’m passionate about optimizing operations and I love good food and everything that goes with it (beer, wine, etc.), so much so that I found my happiness with HiKaMi!

How was the idea of HiKaMi born?

Around a good beer with friends!

We were 4 expatriates going out together in Vietnam and we wanted to share a “Cheers / Santé” with our friends who were also going out … but 12’000 km away! We imagined a bottle opener connected by wifii to our phone that could automatically share a message (without touching the phone). My colleague Minh, who is a designer, came up with a great concept: hiding electronics in a nice wooden case. After a few months of working in parallel of our jobs, we prepared a Kickstarter campaign in May 2016 around this B2C product. Some big breweries saw the project and showed interest in developing the product to find out which beer had been decapped.

So at the beginning of 2017 we turned to this very promising B2B model, which we developed in parallel with the new bottle opener. Without going into detail, we can now automatically determine the brand of a beer when it is opened.

This B2B product will be launched in 2018 with a very large customer (brewery) in a test market, before continuing our global expansion.

How do you see HiKaMi in 5 years?

Our vision is to “capture” every moment of beverage consumption around the world, regardless of location, beverage and format. More concretely my dream is to be active in more than 20 markets, with more than 1 million active bottle openers capturing 1 billion “cheers, santé or kampai” each year.

What role has the Supply Chain played in the development of your company at this point?

Everyday we face Supply Chain challenges!

We have gone through 2 phases where our Supply Chain structures were very different:

  1. During the launch of the first BOx product (Bottle Opener x), we had to deliver more than 1’000 bottle openers for our Kickstarter campaign and then ensure the logistics for our web shop. It was a distribution challenge.

  2. Today we are in pre-series production of our new B2B product. It is much more complex (5 times more components) but delivered to 1 single customer. The challenge is therefore to supply the factory.

What have been the major Supply Chain challenges encountered since your launch?

Logistics is really expensive and it is often hidden costs that you incur after the fact. You should not underestimate the importance of good upstream thinking. We decided to do this work as early as possible in conjunction with SuCh Consulting.

For BOx, our first product, there were several interesting elements: our product was made in Vietnam, it just didn’t fit into the standard size of an envelope (20mm), the value of the product (35 CHF) was just at the limit of paying customs duties and VAT, and we had to deliver to 35 countries all over the world. I have to say that we were a bit lost in finding the best solution for the medium term, but the support of SuCh Consulting guided us towards a suitable solution.

Can you share with us your vision of the Supply Chain?

In a start-up context, you have to find the right balance between an optimal solution and a solution that is easy to implement, flexible and economically interesting.

An optimal solution is perfectly suited for large companies, but in a start-up, things can change so quickly that you must be able to adapt continuously.

You have experienced the world of multinationals and the life as an entrepreneur, what do you learn from these experiences and what can you share with us?

These two worlds are very different, and they have a lot to learn from each other. You have to have the discipline and structure of a multinational combined with the flexibility, agility and responsiveness of a start-up.

As co-founder and COO, what would be the 3 tips you would give to future entrepreneurs who want to launch a start up?

  1. Go into the field as quickly as possible. Make sales, understand the market and the real needs of customers.

  2. The product does not make the start-up a success, each non-validated hypothesis can be perilous. Test all hypotheses and ideas as quickly as possible, even with unfinished products (see Eric Ries’ concept of Minimum Viable Product).

  3. Whenever possible, prepare your project as much as possible before leaving your job. Setting up and launching a company always takes longer than expected!

Life as an entrepreneur is not a long and calm river. What are your golden rules for finding your balance?

For me, it’s the few hours spent with my family at the end of the day that relax me the most. The children have this ability to put our professional difficulties into perspective!

Otherwise, here are a few rules that I apply on a daily basis: wait 30 minutes before touching your phone in the morning, never start the day by processing your e-mails and finally don’t try to do everything alone. On this last point, delegate everything you can and ask for help for what you don’t know yet.

A final word?

“Life Is a Game and You Make the Rules”…

Santé! Cheers! Kampai! Một hai ba, yo!